“First you lose big, then you lose close. Then you win close, and finally you win big.”

That was one of former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden’s “favorite sayings,” his son, Terry, told the Baltimore Sun in 1994.

The four stages of building a program. Nebraska is absolutely on step 3.

If this week’s game at Minnesota holds to the pattern, “win close” is up next. When it comes to the Golden Gophers, there’s no better time for the Huskers to make that progression — in the series and in the season.

In 2019, Nebraska lost 34-7.

“Two years ago we went up there and definitely were not disciplined,” Huskers defensive lineman Ben Stille said. “That’s been a thing for the last two years for sure. Penalties and being disciplined for sure have been an issue.”

Head coach Scott Frost called it “uninspired football.”

“I think that we had some kids that didn’t really want to be there because it was really cold and some rain,” Frost said. “We didn’t play tough that night. I give them credit, they had a really good team two years ago and a good team last year.”

In 2020, it was one of those dreaded one-score losses (24-17) we’ve read so much about.

“They’ve gotten our number the last couple of years,” Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez said.

It’s not just about bouncing back year over year against these opponents, but week after (every other) week of tough losses.

“I would say most of us are over it by Monday after we watch the film, but definitely after the game Saturday and Sunday is kind of tough not to think about it,” Huskers wide receiver Samori Toure said. “What we could have done different in order to win the game, but that is just part of the game. You just have to look at it yourself and be critical and see what you can do better, but once Monday comes around it is on to the next opponent.”

One game at a time.

“Every week is a week of its own and every day is a day of its own,” Stille said. “That’s really the mentality that you have to have.”

Martinez pointed to the Northwestern blowout win after an overtime loss at Michigan State.

“We still know how good of a team we are despite our record,” Martinez said. “We know what we’re capable of. We still have some big games on the schedule, and the biggest one is Minnesota.”

This year, although another big win would be preferable to one with any stress, the Huskers have a chance to show that their place in the current standings (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) doesn’t define them. Minnesota comes in at 3-2, 1-1.

“I know that they’re going to be ready to play, but they always have been,” Martinez said. “They’re a good group, and they’re going to be physical with us, and we have to respond and execute.”

But those close losses have to turn into close wins sooner, rather than later.

“There is not a lot of time left to accomplish what we want to accomplish this season,” Huskers tight end Austin Allen said. “Click the reset button. Nothing we have done in the past should affect us now. We are 0-0. Minnesota is the biggest game on our schedule right now. That is the task at hand. I saw that at practice today, and I think we are going to like our odds up in Minnesota this weekend.”

Martinez said Big Ten teams “have to be on” each week because the level of play is so high.

The quarterback and head coach know 3 of their past opponents are located at the top of the polls.

“When we are playing with a lot of good teams, the margin of error in those things is small and we have to avoid those things,” Frost said. “But the guys are playing well. We can still get a lot done.”

“All you can do is work your tail off and continue to work and push forward and have faith that things will work out,” Martinez said.

Win close. Win big. Doesn’t matter. Just win.